Saturday 21 October 2017

Gunners draw first blood with dead-eyed shoot-out

Arsenal 1 Chelsea 1

Arsenal’s players celebrate after beating Chelsea at Wembley. Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Arsenal’s players celebrate after beating Chelsea at Wembley. Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Jason Burt

The winner does not take it all, certainly not with only the Community Shield at stake. But after Arsenal won the first penalty shoot-out on English shores under the new 'ABBA' system, the unbridled celebrations spoke volumes as to how much it means to Arsene Wenger as he prepares to firefight his way through another long campaign.

Antonio Conte's body language was also eloquent. The champions' manager cut an unhappy figure in defeat on the touchline as he raged against a series of perceived injustices.

Arsenal's English defender Rob Holding (C) goes up for a header. Photo: Getty Images
Arsenal's English defender Rob Holding (C) goes up for a header. Photo: Getty Images

The crackerjack Italian said last week that he wanted to avoid a "Mourinho season" - Jose Mourinho having been sacked a few short months after bringing the Premier League title back to Stamford Bridge - but it has started that way.

Two years ago, Mourinho lost the Community Shield. To Arsenal. By December he was gone.

That is the doomsday scenario and, of course, far, far too much can be read into this feisty game where ring-rust remained, squads still need to be finalised, players were at different levels of fitness and many key performers were on the bench, in the stands or absent entirely.

There were maybe four expected starters absent on each side.

Chelsea's Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois takes his penalty and misses. Photo: Getty Images
Chelsea's Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois takes his penalty and misses. Photo: Getty Images

Arsenal missed Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey - both also injury doubts for the first league match at home to Leicester City this Friday - as well as Laurent Koscielny and the unsettled Alexis Sanchez, who donned his shades and, nevertheless, joined in the cavorting at the end.

Exile

Chelsea were also depleted. No Diego Costa, on his extended holiday exile until he leaves, no Eden Hazard, of course, and no Tiemoue Bakayoko, while both Alvaro Morata and Antonio Rudiger started on the bench.

Both came on - and both made inauspicious starts, with Morata, the record signing for a fee of up to £70m, missing the target completely from the spot in the shoot-out, as did goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, while Rudiger was caught out as Arsenal forced a late equaliser.

Chelsea's sense of angst was heightened by the identity of the scorer: Sead Kolasinac, whom they tried to sign last January.

Arsenal's French striker Olivier Giroud kicks the winning penalty shot. Photo: Getty Images
Arsenal's French striker Olivier Giroud kicks the winning penalty shot. Photo: Getty Images

The defender's headed goal came with Chelsea down to 10 men, and Conte's anger will be fuelled by that sense of grievance - he really must feel fate is conspiring against him as he fulminates over the club's transfer dealings - with Pedro sent off and Willian booked for diving when it could be argued he should have had a penalty.

Conte did not hold back in his complaints about referee Bobby Madley, making the point that it was the second Wembley match in a row against Arsenal that Chelsea had finished with 10 men after Victor Moses was sent off during last May's FA Cup final.

There could be no dispute, however, over that dismissal - Moses received a second yellow card for diving - while, here, Pedro appeared to catch Mohamed Elneny, raking his studs down the back of the midfielder's calf.

It was from the free-kick for that offence, taken by Granit Xhaka, that Kolasinac was not tracked by Rudiger and was able to power a close-range header past Courtois.

Until then, it appeared Arsenal would be Arsenal-esque - playing well, creating opportunities, hitting a post through their record signing, Alexandre Lacazette, who looked lively on the rare occasions he managed to break clear of David Luiz's shackles - before they, somewhat inevitably, conceded a soft goal.

Chelsea's Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is beaten by a penalty. Photo: Getty Images
Chelsea's Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is beaten by a penalty. Photo: Getty Images

That came early in the second half with Xhaka ballooning the ball woefully up into the air, then reacting slowly to challenge Gary Cahill as it dropped from the sky with the Chelsea captain's header being latched on to by Moses, who stole in ahead of Rob Holding to chest it down and side-foot past Petr Cech.

The wing-back celebrated with a swallow dive - a reminder of that red card just 71 days ago.

By then, Arsenal had lost Per Mertesacker with a cut to his head and, with Koscielny out and Shkodran Mustafi only just returning to training after the Confederations Cup, they were left with 21-year-old Holding as their only recognised central defender.

Cue more questions, then, over Arsenal's soft centre. But it helps when you have a replacement whose nickname is 'The Tank' and Kolasinac certainly has some rugged qualities.

Not that anyone can accuse Arsenal of not playing attractive football, and that was best illustrated in an opening quarter in which Lacazette, Alex Iwobi and Danny Welbeck combined as an athletic, quick front three.

It culminated in a move initiated and ended by Lacazette, who found Hector Bellerin, he returned the ball to the striker who then exchanged passes with Welbeck before bending his right-foot shot around Cahill, only for the ball to cannon back off a post.

Mertesacker's departure unsettled Arsenal and after Pedro stung Cech's palms there came the penalty incident as Bellerin challenged Willian, his knee catching the Brazilian, who also appeared to clip himself, before he hit the turf.

Punished

Was it a penalty? Was it a dive? Maybe it was neither, but Willian was the only one who was punished as were Chelsea, again, when Pedro was dismissed and Arsenal capitalised.

There was no extra-time. Instead it went straight to penalties under the new 'ABBA' system - with the teams not simply going one after the other but following the sequence used in tennis tie-breaks - and Arsenal converting all four of those with comfort as Chelsea carelessly missed twice.

It was substitute Olivier Giroud (left) who converted the decisive kick, to sparked those celebrations.

As ever with Arsenal, it left them open to the accusation of making too much out of limited success but the manner of this win, a comeback against the champions, more than the win itself, will feel important. (© Daily Telegraph, London.)

 

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